Literary Nonfiction

THE PEACEABLE KINGDOM: A Year in the Life of America's Oldest Zoo, 1988

The Peaceable KingdomWhat James Herriot has done for the farm animals of Yorkshire, John Sedgwick has done for the exotic animals of the Philadelphia Zoo.  He evokes a delightful cast of characters (many of them four-legged) and an extraordinary landscape—indeed, a world apart.

Founded in 1861, the Philadelphia Zoo is America’s oldest zoo, and, as Sedgwick writes, its “most intimate and charming one,” too.  It is filled with gaudy Victorian architecture and English-style gardens, as well as a bounty of exotic animals and an array of dedicated keepers, veterinarians and staff. 

In the four seasons of his year at the zoo, Sedgwick follows the unfolding of the intimate drama that is an urban zoo.  A young elephant keeper, a burly Vietnam vet, struggles to win the respect of the discerning and potentially treacherous elephants in his charge.  The zoo’s Indian rhino, Billy, turns local celebrity when given the chance to mate with Xavira (named for the Happy Hooker), a female rhino flown in for him from Switzerland.   A young lab technician’s is broken-hearted when she has to give up the little bearcat she has hand-raised because it was sold to another zoo.  And a female wolf is challenged by her sister for the right to couple with the pack’s alpha—a story chronicled by a devoted amateur dubbed the Wolf Lady who watches the action daily.

This is a book for animal lovers of every stripe, to rejoice at the mere existence of such a much-loved animal garden, and a chance to think anew about their own relationships with the animals in their lives.

 


"A feast for zoo-lovers,"
—Publisher's Weekly

"Tremendously entertaining,"—U.P.I.


RICH KIDS: America's Heirs and Heiresses: How they Love and Hate their Money, 1985

Rich Kids

To come into money, especially a big hunk of it, is the universal fantasy.  But what is it really like?  For lottery winners, of course, the money comes out of the blue, catching them totally unprepared.  But what about heirs and heiresses, the young ones, who have been groomed for their inheritances?  Is it, for them, a thrill, a satisfaction, a relief—or a strange burden?  To find the answers, John Sedgwick spent nearly a year traveling the country interviewing fifty-two of these rich kids—a “full deck” as he writes.  Some of them heirs to America’s great dynastic fortunes: Rockefeller, Mellon, Pulitzer and Pillsbury.  Many others are recipients of lesser known new money.  All were profoundly affected by their wealth.  For many, it left them socially isolated, with no reason to work, and worries that potential dates were interested in them only for their bank account.  Some went to great lengths to conceal their fortunes; others were boastful.  For some, their financial freedom made them feel lost; for others it brought  greater opportunity.  Some devoted themselves to good works; others to self-indulgence.  But for all, the money was transformative in ways that the rest of us can scarcely imagine.

“John Sedgwick has presented a rarity—the balanced, brilliantly document, and ultimately bleak spectacle of the young owners of great wealth, the Tom and Daisy Buchanans of the current generation. Sedgwick allows his moneyed young folk, many of them glowing with health and high spirits, to speak for themselves. Their underlying mess—of confusion, shame and isolation—is as authentic as it is surprising. I found this a poignant and fascinating book.”—Anne Bernays, author of Growing Up Rich


NIGHT VISION: Confessions of Gil Lewis, Private Eye, 1982

Night Vision

Gil Lewis is a real-life private eye—one of the best, most ingenious, and toughest in the country.  Whether he is combing Boston’s red-light district for witnesses to a bloody street murder, waiting out the night in a parked car for a glimpse of an errant husband, careening down a highway in a high-speed car chase, or staking out a cemetery to catch a stalker in the act, it’s all part of the job, and Gil Lewis shows us how it’s really done.

Thoroughly absorbing, sometimes chilling and always entertaining, Night Vision is an exciting foray into Gil Lewis’s world. It takes us out on his nightly rounds to show what the business of sleuthing is all about. Detailed, on the spot accounts disclose come of his most fascinating cases, from the $500 a day “domestic” variety (shadowing spouses for useful evidence in divorce proceedings), to the hunt for Howard Hughes, at the behest of the National Enquirer, to the far less lucrative but infinitely more challenging criminal investigations and missing persons work.

Graced with style, humor, and a touch of Lewis’s own brand of philosophy, Night Vision takes readers into a world where TV detectives rarely go.

“John Sedgwick’s writing is clean, spare, and humorous, and he manges to render the private eye, along with his sweaty world of felons, fugitives and errant spouses, with both realism and a certain Poe-like atmosphere. I’ve got a new feelilng now about the meaning of ‘private eye.’  This is an exceptionally appealing and exciting book.”  — Justin Kaplan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain.  

Night Vision has it all: narrative pace that doesn’t let up, suspense, violence, an irresistible hero who is even more hardboiled and more sentimental than the private ‘dicks’ of fiction.” — James Carroll, National Book Award-winning author of American Requiem.

“The essential text for readers and writers of detective fiction,” —Evan Hunter, the author, as Ed McBain, of the 87th Precinct series of police novels, New York Times Book Review